Meet ‘Jim Carter’, the 18-year-old from Kolkata who would have been a vandal but went on to be one of the poster boys of the Wikipedia movement in India.
Vandals were originally an East Germanic tribe or group of tribes. ‘Vandalism’ on the Wikipedia today refers to the act of editing the project in a malicious manner. Preventing this is crucial to Wikipedia managing to keep most of its online encyclopaedia open, while still maintaining its credibility.
‘Jim Carter’ is actually Rudra Pratap Sinha in real life. He had to shift away from his actual name due to his early acts of indiscretions on the collaborative online encyclopaedia. His exposure shows how misunderstandings happen in cyberspace, especially collaborative spaces, but can also get cleared up.
Sinha began by searching for something online, reached the Wikipedia and realised he could edit it. He speedily made a page promoting himself. But, just as he was calling out to his father to “see my page on the Wikipedia”, it got deleted within minutes.
He recalls: “I was very angry, went over to the talk page of the woman who had deleted it, and wrote something very offensive there. Anna Frodesik, the editor who had done that, responded kindly. She told me the Wikipedia was not meant for individual promotion and mentioned the rules of ‘notability’ (before a page can be created by an individual).”
She soon restored the deleted page on his sandbox — a kind of temporary and private page and meant for new Wikipedians to play around with and try out things. In the meanwhile, Sinha kept on doing further damage.
A big-time WWF wrestling fan at the time, he was upset what someone had written about a wrestler he idolised. So he blanked out some page on the Wikipedia. That page was, however, restored and reverted to its original status, again in minutes.
“Meanwhile, someone had sent me four warning messages, but I didn’t notice that on my messages page. I was told I’d be blocked if I continue with my behaviour. Instead, I started another round of ‘vandalism’, this time by posting content that violated copyright,” he explains.
So, after getting blocked, he created another identity — that of ‘Jim Carter’ — and resumed his questionable behaviour, on exactly the lines most likely to draw negative responses from the Wikipedia community.
He got outed as a ‘sock puppet’, or a false online identity, typically created by a person to promote his own opinions or views by pretending to be someone else.
In the meanwhile, another understanding editor whom he remembers as MelineN came along and tried to sort out the many misunderstandings he had created. Running into this type of kindness, in a fairy tale-like sounding story, the teenager vandal turned over a good leaf.
Keeping the Wikipedia almost wholly open to edit by anyone can be a strength, not a weakness, those supporting the wiki approach to knowledge creation argue. India is currently hosting is second national Wikipedia meet at Chandigarh-Mohali called WikiConference India 2016.
After taking over his ‘Jim Carter’ identity in 2013, he has made some 22,000 edits, created four good articles, two featured lists, one featured article (considered to be of high quality) and one featured image. He has also created some 60 odd did-you-know questions, small infoboxes that are tagged on to the all-important front pages of the Wikipedia, the sixth largest site in the world.
A first year B.Tech student in Kolkata, he today even offers Wikipedia lessons and tips via a WhatsApp list he runs.